Claims from a world-leading professor, that autism is a silently growing monster and forms of it can be prevented, have prompted outrage within the autism community.
The Fiona Stanley Hospital precinct in Perth's southern suburbs is set to become home to one of the world's leading research laboratories - the Australian National Phenome Centre (ANPC). Harry Perkins Research Institute at Fiona Stanley Hospital to house Australia's first phenome research centre. Phenomics set to revolutionise the way disease is diagnosed and treated.
Claims from a world-leading professor lured to Perth to head up a game-changing research hub, that autism is a silently growing monster and forms of it can be prevented, have prompted outrage within the autism community.
Professor Jeremy Nicholson — who left Imperial College London to join Murdoch University and lead the Australian National Phenome Centre at Fiona Stanley Hospital’s Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research — told The Sunday Times last week forms of autism triggered by environmental factors could be prevented by this work.
His remarks, which also referred to autism as the most expensive disease in the Western world, prompted a social media backlash.
Autism advocate and author Jeanette Purkis said some of Professor Nicholson’s comments “did not tally with academic and clinical understanding”. “For example, autism is a neurological difference rather than a ‘disease’,” Purkis said. “If you speak to a great many autistic people, we will tell you that we do not want to be ‘cured’. Many of us feel proud to be who we are.
“Autistic people are not a ‘burden’. That is a very cruel and offensive thing to level at a group of people who are already facing bigotry and hatred. It is also untrue ... with the right support, understanding and encouragement, autistic people can achieve their potential, whatever that may mean for them.
“The idea that we should eliminate autism is not such a good idea to my mind.”
Purkis said referring to autism as a silently growing monster could fan discrimination: “Research would be better helping autistic people to achieve their potential.”
Professor Nicholson said he had the greatest respect for people on the autism spectrum, their families and carers: “Many people on the spectrum are exceptionally talented individuals and contribute positively to society in many ways.
“But autism is a complex mosaic with a constellation of subtypes, possible causes and presentations, the relationships between which remain poorly understood. We need to unpick the extraordinarily complex root causes of ASDs (autism spectrum disorders) and understand how genetics and environmental factors such as diet, microbial and pollutant exposure might be involved in each individual.
“This approach is at the heart of precision medicine and health care — a major driver for the new research centre we are building at Murdoch University.”
Originally published as Anger at autism comments